Captain Bill's Closes

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Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–A long time Middleton restaurant has closed its door for good. Captain Bill’s, on the shores of Lake Mendota, will not reopen said Jack von Rutenberg in a press release last week. He cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for closing the business, and will now focus on the other businesses owned by his family’s company von Rutenberg Ventures (VRV).

“Perhaps the biggest, and permanent, change related to Covid-19 is that the company has decided to, upon reopening later this month, consolidate and limit operations only to the town of Westport. Four of the five VRV businesses are located in this town at the northern tip of Lake Mendota. Captain Bill’s, located in Middleton, will not reopen,” the press release read.

Von Rutenberg, his brother Bill and his parents Betty and Bill Sr. Captain Bill’s on Nov. 22, 1993. Jack’s brother, Robert, joined the business in 2000.

He said his family has been in the restaurant business since the early ‘60s, starting out with an eight-stool burger joint in Madison called the Nibble Nook. From there his family opened the Mariner’s Inn, Nau-ti-gal, Betty Lou’s Cruises, Captain Bill’s and Westport Marine. Von Rutenberg said he remembers going to the Nibble Nook with his dad as a child, “I thought it was the best thing in the world, going to work with my dad, and a burger would just show up,” he recalled in a Times-Tribune interview conducted in 2018 for Captain Bill’s 25th anniversary. 

He described his family as embracing the hospitality business over the years.

“Weighing everything, it just made sense to not reopen Captain Bill's. This decision was due to the uncertainty of the timetable coming out of the pandemic and the effect that has had on our industry. When we evaluated all of our properties and businesses, it made sense to consolidate our operations to Westport because both the Mariner's and Nau-Ti-Gal sites have multiple businesses running out of their locations, and have lots of room for expansion due to excess land on each site,” von Rutenberg said via email.

The press release also stated that many fond memories had been made over the years, and went on to say, “The contributions by the managers and team members over the past three decades has allowed Captain Bill’s to be recognized as a leader in the independent, locally owned restaurant scene. These honors include several Best of Madison awards, and being featured on the Food Network as one of the Best Casual Restaurants in America. The Captain Bill’s service and culinary teams also helped Captain Bill’s, as part of von Rutenberg Ventures, win the Family Business of the Year for the State of Wisconsin in 2013.”

Nau-Ti-Gal and Mariner’s Inn are scheduled to reopen in mid-June. Nau-Ti-Gal will switch to lunch service rather than brunch on Sundays for the time being. Betty Lou Cruises will reduce its operations to two boats on Lake Mendota only. Normally the company also has two boats on Lake Monona as well. Westport Marine opened at the beginning of the boating season.

“The only other thing I would like to add is that my family will always cherish and appreciate the support of the Middleton community and all the friends we've made at Captain Bill's over the last three decades. We look forward to them visiting us just down the road a little at our other locations,” von Rutenberg concluded in his recent email.

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